November 17, 2004 — Tim Boelter, Jon Otto, and Ma Yihua all successfully
reached the summit of Siguniang.
This marks only the second successful summit bid
by an American. And it’s the first time a Chinese climber
has reached the top of Siguniang.
November 24, 2004 – Jon describes
the summit bid
November 23, 2004 – Final thoughts from Tim
17, 2004 – One
final push upwards
16, 2004 – The
curse of Siguniang
15, 2004 – Snow
14, 2004 – Heavy
snow, avalanches halt progress
13, 2004 – Another
night of tenuous sleep
13, 2004 – First
summit team getting close
12, 2004 – Reporting
from a perilous perch on the ridge
12, 2004 – Getting
ready for the summit bid
10, 2004 – Tim plummets into crevasse
2004 – Unexpected rest day
November 7, 2004 – More
November 6, 2004 – Avalanches
November 4, 2004 – Rest
day on the glacier
November 3, 2004 – Avalanche
November 3, 2004 – The
November 2, 2004 – Heading up to 16,200 feet
October 30, 2004 – Setting
up basecamp, porter strike
October 28, 2004 – Packing
for the climb
27, 2004 – Arriving in Chengdu
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2004 – Jon Otto’s final dispatch
It was an exciting summit day. Tim made record time by flashing
up the fixed lines from glacier camp in one mighty push. Ma Yihua
became the first Chinese citizen to summit Siguniang. And I just
led the whole way to the summit. Ma and I left C2 at 9:30AM. Ok,
a little late, but the winds suddenly died and gave us a window of
opportunity. The last 5 days or so we had constant heavy, erratic
winds and a bunch of snow. It was either blowing or snowing. If it
was blowing it was generally sunny but the winds were so heavy that
it was not possible to climb. When the winds stopped it would start
snowing like crazy and that put a cap on going any higher. This cycle
was wearing down the team. The winds brought in bitter cold temperatures,
winter had come to Siguniang.
I started to get anxious and on November
16. Ma, Gang, Tim, and me decided to go C2 to wait out the weather.
The winds were at least bearable this day. We were all getting
cabin fever sitting around glacier camp. Other team members thought
I was a little nuts, that it was just to f***ing cold. Gang turned
around below the icefall because he could not feel his feet and
Tim decided to rest because his knee was hurting badly, I think.
I arrived C2 in 4+ hours, made some brew and waiting for Ma. It
turned dark and still no Ma. The winds got stronger. Finally, two
hours after dark Ma arrives at camp smiling. I think his brain
froze. Ma may climb slowly, but he sure is tough...and persistent.
Wind blew all night but the next morning
around 9AM everything suddenly calmed down. Siguniang was giving
us our chance. Ma and I headed out and Tim said on the radio that
he was coming up. The summit beckoned and the knee a bit better.
I slowly made new tracks along a part of the ridge called the ‘Pearl Necklace’. It’s
wavy top, funky rounded cornices and steep sides give it the appearance
of lined up pearls. Well, just 30 minutes from C2 I walked to close
to the top of one of the ‘pearls’ and sent it tumbling
3000 feet down with me dangling from the fixed line, one foot on
either side of the ridge. These last few days of snow and wind made
the cornices unstable. Another 30 yards along the ridge I invariantly
cracked off another huge cornice. Watching the immensity of snow
and ice hurdle down the face, gaining speed at an incredible rate
is very pacifying. The power of the mountain is right there in your
face and you feel your place here is so insignificant and so easily
altered. But, the summit lay ahead and we were again on our way.
We left the fixed line behind at 6130 meters and started a running
belay for the top. We made the summit when I broke through a small
cornice at 4:30PM on November 17 and found that I could not climb
any higher. I waved my ice tools at Ma and Tim below in excitement.
I threw a picket in sideways in the soft snow and belayed up Ma and
Tim. It was cold. The wind was blowing. The sun started to dip below
a range of 5000-meter peaks in the west. It was beautiful. Ma and
I hastily pulled sponsor flags from our packs, took pictures, and
then got ready to descend. Tim filmed but couldn't keep his hands
out of his gloves for very long before loosing all feeling in his
fingers. All three of us were loosing body heat rapidly.
We rapped off the picket and again four more times to the top of
the fixed line. We reached the fixed line at dark. From here Tim
dashed off back to glacier camp to complete his marathon 8000 vertical
meters of climbing that day (4000 up, 4000 down). Quite a feat. Ma
and me made our way back to C2 for another night on the ridge sleeping
in our harnesses clipped off to our lifeline. We promised the other
members that we would wait there for them to summit the following
day. On the way down in the night the slit of a moon gave us just
enough light to see the summit silhouetted against a dark sky. In
the distance the lights from Chengdu, a city of 9 million, radiated
from the valley clouds in a huge circle. A surreal experience.
When we arrived at C2 Kang Hua, Chen, and
Gang were there. The next morning the three of them left at 7:30AM
for the summit. Couldn’t
have asked for better weather on November 18. We watched them from
C2 as they efficiently made the summit by noon. We broke down C2
that afternoon and rapped down to glacier camp and BC. I stayed behind
to take down the fixed line on the couloir. I broke down line way
into the evening only to arrive glacier camp at 9:30PM. There was
something meditative about working alone by headlamp in the quiet
of the night. Mountains move during the day (avalanches, rock fall,
wind, cracking) and become quiet during the night (everything freezes).
The serene on the slopes of a mountain are a moment all of themselves
not found anywhere else.
We left BC for Chengdu on November 19. It
was snowing lightly and the mountain socked in with clouds. Very
appropriate, I thought. The mountain gave us two summit days and
that was it. That was all we needed. We hobbled down to Rilong
town and then took a minivan back to Chengdu. Tim’s knee
finally gave away and going downhill was awfully painful. Both
Ma and me had cold injured feet. I think it will take a couple
months for my toes to recover. We arrived Chengdu at 11PM after
5 hours of walking, 2 hours on a horse, and 7 hours in a most uncomfortable
vehicle, and then went straight to the Shamrock bar for burgers
What a climb. I would do it all over again.
Cheers, climb safe, Jon Otto
23, 2004 — Tim Boelter’s final dispatch from the
In August of 2003 my friend Jon Otto and
his business partner Ma Yihua—both owners of the Arete Alpine Instruction Center (AAIC)—and
their young Tibetan guide-in-training, Wangping, embarked on an alpine
style attempt of Siguniang the Fourth Maiden. Within two days of
leaving Rilong Town, the small gateway village to the newly established
Four Girls Mountain Nature Reserve, we reached the base of the Japanese
Couloir, our proposed route. The couloir was devoid of snow and ice,
exposing lose and unstable rock. All around us the sound of small
rock and snow avalanches poured from the high ridge that formed an
amphitheatre around us. The mountain was crumbling down before us
as the structural element of ice and snow melted away weakening the
bonding agent that held everything together.
It was a year of heat waves that wreaked havoc on the Alps in Europe
and stretched as far east as Asia. Massive melt off reduced glaciers
in size throughout Europe leaving popular climbs and treks on the
famous peaks unstable and dangerous with continuous rock fall.
This would become our fate on Siguniang in
2003. On our third day of the expedition we started to climb the
snow pyramid at the base of the couloir. Jon climbed out front
as I started to shoot video. Although rock fall was prominent all
around us—the couloir
had been quiet during the two days of observation from our glacier
camp. But this would change with a familiar sound from above us.
I pointed the camera up the route only able to see perhaps 30 meters
above the vertical bottom section. The sound of small rocks bouncing
down the gully concerned me, but within seconds the sound grew into
a deafening roar. Looking through the viewfinder I waited for the
inevitable, and then the sight of huge boulders bouncing erratically
and with tremendous speed descended upon us. I yelled to warn Jon
as I tried to continue filming while tripping over my own feet backing
up. I fell into a void in the snow, but quickly stood up. Jon was
right below the massive barrage of rock fall, standing motionless
with his axes out to his sides as if playing dodge ball—ready
to veer to the left or the right. The slide lasted for minutes and
it was a miracle that we both were not hit. Needless to say we got
the hell out of there and descended to camp. We came to the general
consensus that the route was just too dangerous to climb. Of course
we came up with plan B, which was to traverse around the ridgeline
and ascend the glacier on the opposite side and regain the ridge
The next morning we woke to a loud cracking
jolt from below us, our camp settled about an inch on the glacier.
The sounds of rock fall were now mixed with the pitter-patter of
sleet hitting the fabric of our tent. In the drizzling sleet we
packed up camp and made our way down and around the ridge. By nightfall
we set up another camp on the east-side glacier. All four of us
piled into a cramped tent and brewed water and ate. The next morning
was just as ugly as the day before. In fact everyday was overcast,
the mountain didn’t
even seem to exist outside the blanket of whiteness that enveloped
its slopes. The day was windy with a mix of sleet and snow. We pushed
up the steep ice slope toward the ridge. To our dismay the ridge
was in a torrent of wind and to add to our dismay, it was as close
to a knife-edge as it gets. One side just dropped away into the white
For the next nine hours we labored upward in blowing sleet and snow.
The ridge was unrelenting without even a mild flat spot to stand.
Every belay required protection, either ice screws or pickets. At
times a foot of loose snow had to be excavated just to get a good
screw in. By the time the sky started to show signs of night fall
we were becoming desperate to find a place to put up a tent. It was
obvious that the ridge would never relent. We resorted to piling
into a cramped fissure where the glacier melted away from the rocky
ridge that dropped off who knows how far because it was just white
all around us. That night we slept under a tent fly strung up above
our heads in a cave to stop the dripping water from drenching us.
The next morning Ma Yihua, Wangping and Jon woke with soaked sleeping
bags. Fortunately I slept on a very uncomfortable reclined rock that
kept me up off the ground sparing my bag from being saturated with
water. It was obvious we had to descend, and that we did. Twelve
hours later we arrived at our base camp, exhausted, wet and ready
to go home.
In 2003, although the weather never exposed
the beauty of Siguniang while we were actually on her slopes, I
was fortunate to be graced by the beauty of the Fourth Maiden for
one day. While waiting in Rilong Town I climbed to the ridgeline
just out of town and spent a day up where the horses graze by Buddhist
chortens. From this vantage point I captured on video the beauty
this area offers. It was obvious we had to come back…
Our first trip to Siguniang was an alpine
style attempt. This year (2004) we climbed with the intention of
getting ourselves up along with five of China’s most notable
climbers. This meant fixing over 1,200 meters of rope, which Jon
Otto was responsible for and he did an incredible job.
Siguniang has been climbed by four other
teams: two from Japan, a very notable British ascent by Mick Fowler
and Paul Ramsden, and an American ascent by Charlie Fowler. Until
this year, the Chinese had not climbed this revered mountain and
many Chinese believed it wasn’t possible. The success of
this climb put six team members on top, two Americans and four
I have climbed on some Himalayan giants including
Everest and Cho
Oyu, and have endured the frigid temperatures of
Denali, but the cold, the winds, and the continuous dangers of
avalanches on the slopes of Siguniang added a different dimension
of difficulty. For me the trip had its difficulties, perhaps I
should have worn double boots instead of single leathers, my feet
are still slightly swollen and without feeling. I may have underestimated
the challenges of Siguniang, but why would I do such a thing? Perhaps
learn from 2003. “Siguniang has a curse,” says
Chen Junchi to me while we’re being battered by continuous
winds and avalanches. Yes it does, I thought. But we beat the curse.
On November 17th I departed glacier camp (16,200 feet) at 10:00 am
for the end of the fixed lines, my intentions were to reach the top
of the fixed lines and film. At approximately 3:30 pm Jon and Ma
Yihua were just within sight on the upper face of the mountain. I
could see Jon waving his hand motioning me to hurry. And I did, by
4:30 pm I could see Jon cresting the final snow ridge. His pack lit
up from the sunlight hitting it and I knew he was on top. He turned
and looked down and then both arms went into the air, it was the
After seven hours of continuous climbing
I stepped on top to join Ma Yihua and Jon Otto. One year ago we
descended this mountain wet, tired and defeated, today it was three
of the original four standing on the summit in celebration. But
it would be quick, I was losing all feeling in my toes, and my
fingers quickly went numb after shooting video on top. The sun
was retiring for the day and the thought of climbing down in the
bitter cold night wasn’t sounding too
exciting. The moon was about a quarter full and helped illuminate
the slopes and even added certain warmth to the inhospitable place.
Jon and Ma stayed at the ridge camp, but I had to continue down to
glacier camp 2,000 feet below. Chen Junchi, Kang Hua, and Chenzi
Gang all came up to the ridge camp during the day, with only a two-man
tent and a three-man precariously perched on a knife edge there was
no room for me. I arrived at glacier camp at 9:30 pm, took off my
boots and quickly realized that my feet had the telltale signs of
frostbite. They were white, waxy and as hard as a piece of wood.
But aside from that—because I only ate a few steamed bread
balls for breakfast, one Snickers bar and one Gu during the course
of the whole day—my legs started having severe cramps. So severe
that I couldn’t even walk to my tent.
All in all I managed. Jon on the other hand
suffered from a combination of frostbite and severe trauma to both
his big toes. By the time we arrived in Chengdu, Jon’s toes
were almost black. We went to the Chengdu Third Peoples Hospital
where they decided that he needed skin grafts. Jon is currently
seeking multiple opinions from doctors here in the States, and
will be waiting a few weeks before making a decision on the surgery,
which is what all the books suggest.
The climb was a great success and the footage
I have seen looks very promising. I would like to extend a sincere
thank you to all that have followed this adventure. I would like to
thank my wife Holly Boelter for her tireless support in putting this
website together at the last minute without any consultation from us
and for transcribing difficult satellite phone messages every day.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Jon Otto for his incredible
strength and determination for getting up this mountain. Jon is no
doubt one of the great climbers in the world, and his lack of ego and
easy going nature make him one of the best partners I have climbed
with. Jon always looks after the wellbeing of the expedition as a whole
rather than just himself. It’s
good to be home, the Chinese food was great, but I think I have had
enough of rice, cabbage and sheep for one year.
17, 2004 — ONE FINAL PUSH UPWARDS
It’s Wednesday, November 17th at 9:30 a.m.
getting my crampons and harness on to begin my climb up Siguniang
from glacier camp. Jon Otto and Ma Yihua spent the night at the ridge
camp and plan to try for the summit today.
There are fixed lines all the way up to 200
feet short of the summit. So I can safely clip into the line and
climb up by myself. But once I get to the end of the fixed line
I won’t be able to continue
up without a partner. So I won’t be able to reach the summit.
But hopefully I’ll get within 200 feet.
Last night was the coldest night we’ve had yet. It was windy
and brutal. Today the skies are clear but it’s still extremely
windy and cold.
We are all planning to leave the mountain tomorrow, so however far
we climb today will be our high point. I will be bringing the satellite
phone with me up the mountain, so I hope to provide another update
from higher up.
16, 2004 — THE CURSE OF SIGUNIANG
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (2.7 MB MP3 file)
Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier
camp on Siguniang. It’s November 16, 2004. Last night we were going to depart
camp at 2:00 a.m. for a summit attempt from this camp directly. But
we awoke to snow again and thundering avalanches off in the distance. So
we went back to sleep. We awoke again at 8 o’clock this morning
and the winds were extremely high. In fact, it felt like the tent
was going to rip apart.
We are now down to the wire with people having
to leave. And Jon Otto today decided that in the blistering wind — which you
may hear behind me — to depart up the mountain. We have three
guys going up the mountain hopefully to get to the ridge camp.
A lot of the Chinese here that are remaining
in camp are concerned about this group going up in these conditions.
It’s very important
that the Chinese reach the summit of Siguniang. And it is important
for Jon Otto to be a part of that. I, however, don’t know what’s
going to happen here. These winds could continue for the next two
or three days. They do say we’re going to have a clearing,
but they said that two days ago and all we’ve had is snow and
wind. The temperatures are extremely cold here.
We have one Chinese climber with frostbitten
toes that was complicated by front pointing into the ice. He cannot
continue. Another Chinese climber has a very bad throat condition.
He cannot continue. Technically we are down to one Chinese climber
plus Ma Yihua who is also Chinese but works with AAIC, which is
My camera is now beginning to malfunction after many years of going
to altitude and extreme cold. It is not working properly. I may not
be able to get footage from the summit or even from the Pearl Necklace,
which disappoints me.
I am going to try to go up today in these
conditions. I will make the right decision if I feel the frostbite
coming on. Also I have had a traumatic head injury early this year,
which I have to take into consideration with the conditions up
here and how I’ve
All in all, Jon Otto has been doing an incredible job on this mountain.
He deserves a lot of accolades.
We probably will be departing the mountain
on November 18th. Time is running out. And the camp on the ridge
could be destroyed by the high winds. So who knows what’s
going to happen at this point.
It still is an incredible story and there still will be a film.
But it is disappointing that Siguniang has this curse on us.
15, 2004 — SNOW FORCES RETREAT
Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier camp with the latest
dispatch. On the morning of the 14th we awoke to a mountain encased
in a snowy tomb. It snowed all day and beyond the whiteness of camp
you could hear the roar of avalanches pouring off of every couloir.
Jon, Chen, and Kang were going to the summit, but the weather was
too bad to continue. So they evacuated the ridge camp and descended
the fixed line in an on and off whiteout condition.
The snow continued into nightfall and the total accumulation was
about two feet. It was very disappointing for the summit team to
get within 200 meters from the summit and have to descend.
Today is the 15th of November and everyone is back in glacier camp.
Once again we awoke to extremely high winds, which actually ripped
the fabric from the whole length of the zipper on our tent vestibule.
So, in essence, all the spindrift blows in and covers us.
Tomorrow Jon, Chen, and I will leave glacier camp at 7:00 a.m. and
attempt to go all the way to the summit and back. This is a huge
task, but we are running out of time. And the weather forecast predicts
that there will only be one nice day, and that is tomorrow.
Expedition members have to leave the expedition for prior commitments.
And it is important to reach the summit before the 18th, which gives
us three days.
NOVEMBER 14, 2004 — Heavy snow, avalanches halt progress
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (1.9 MB MP3 file)
Hello. This is Tim Boelter reporting from
glacier camp on Siguniang. It’s November 14th. We awoke to sagging tents and about a foot
of snow on the ground. It’s still snowing. It is predicted
to snow until tomorrow afternoon then the skies will clear up for
the next four days. This does pose a problem because at this time
we have avalanches careening off the ridges and faces around camp.
It’s almost a virtual whiteout here. This is the worst snowfall
we’ve had yet.
Going up to the ridge in the next two days will be very difficult.
We will be postholing again and it will make our summit bid very
Jon Otto, Kang Hua, and Chen are up at the
ridge, Camp II, at about 18,750 feet. They too are getting snow.
However, the weather is actually warm now because of the front
that is coming through. That’s
the one positive thing.
We don’t know how our summit bids will
turn out. Jon, Chen, and Kang Hua did not make the summit yesterday.
They were about, I would say, 700 vertical feet short of reaching
the summit, maybe less than that. Almost half way up the summit
Things are getting kind of boring here. I
speak very little Chinese and it’s tough for me to communicate. I’ve had nothing
but rice, cabbage, and sheep for the last few weeks for dinner. And
that’s getting old too. So I do look forward to having a little
bit more variety in my meals.
Everything is OK. I will be reporting as
things change. But for now we are snowed in, it’s a whiteout, avalanches. That’s
it for now.
NOVEMBER 13, 2004 — Another
night of tenuous sleep
to Jons voice dispatch from the mountain (2.6 MB MP3 file)
This is the third night of sleeping in my
harness hooked into a static line. The static line runs through
the front of the tent and out the rear window. The two ends are
tied off to ice screws outside. The tent is precariously balanced
on a four-foot-wide flat section of the snowy ridge that we dug
out a few days ago. Either side is over 2,500 vertical feet down.
If you fell you would not stop until you reached the valley floor
below on one side of the ridge or the glacier on the other side
of the ridge. The idea of the static line is that if the snow under
the tent gives way and we go tumbling down either side, the tent
and climber will at least be caught before they go tumbling down — although
feel very uncomfortable to be hanging there with no shoes or anything.
Last night there were heavy winds that continued into the morning
and we had overcast skies today. So we got a late start. And it was
also oh so very cold up here on the ridge, our ridge camp, Camp II.
But we finished fixing the section of the
route called the Pearl Necklace, which is just some of the ridge
that is steep on each side, shit snow, real corniced. So we’re
glad to get through that. We also made it about half way up the
main summit wall, which was not as steep as I thought, maybe something
around 45 degrees. The snow was also better. I could get good placement
with the pick of my ice tools because the snow was hard enough.
But I had to change back to my reliable Black Prophet tools because
on my newer tools the screws rattled lose and the head came lose
from pounding pitons.
Now what to do when nature calls #2
and you’re tied
into your harness 24 hours a day wearing Gore-Tex bibs. Well, I’ll
stay clear of the details, but it did work out. It did so while I
was hanging from my daisy chain from an ice screw on the summit wall.
And it would have looked pretty amusing to an observer who I hope
was not Tim filming up at my rear at that moment.
Tim has been doing tons of filming and is coming
up tomorrow with two other members. They are going to spend the night
here at the ridge camp and then try for the summit.
If the weather is good tomorrow we’re going
to take off about 8:00 a.m. Chen, Kang, and me — the three
of us — are
going to try for the summit tomorrow. So we’ll all see how
this works out.
NOVEMBER 13, 2004 – First
summit team getting close
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (1 MB MP3
Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier
camp on Siguniang. It’s 2:58 Saturday, November 13th. At
this time I am watching through the camera as three of our team
members are making their final stretch towards the summit. Clouds
are moving in and it is getting quite windy down here at the glacier
camp. Jon Otto, Kang Hua, and Chen are on their way to the summit.
This morning we all woke to very, very high
winds. I did not go up in the high winds; I stayed here. Tomorrow
more of us hopefully going up: Gang, Ma, and Tim Boelter.
The weather is getting bad right now and
we’re hoping for
the best for these summiteers. That’s just a quick dispatch
to let you know what’s going on right now. As things develop
we will let you know.
12, 2004 — Reporting from
a perilous perch on the ridge
Camp II at 19,140 feet
We got here to the high camp yesterday. Two
days ago the whole team went up to this point carrying stuff. Cao
Jun and I came up to stay up here confident that we’d find
a decent place to camp.
We finished fixing 200 meters of fixed line
along the ridge. When I got to the end of that fixed line I let
out another 100 meters of line. The ridge I wouldn’t say
got flatter, but it got less steep. But the sides of the ridge
got a little steeper, and became more and more knife-like.
We finished late in the day and eventually
I found a spot on the ridge that wasn’t corniced and started digging in with a shovel.
I was shoveling snow off of both sides of the ridge. One side is
probably 80 degrees with rock and snow. The side we’re climbing
is 70 to 80 degrees. I was trying to level off the top of the ridge
enough to put a tent on. We were able to level it off enough to put
up a two-man MSR
Fury tent. But each side still overlapped a little bit on each
side of the ridge. We fastened it down with ice screws and put a
rope inside the tent, through the tent, and slept inside with our
harnesses clipped in just in case the ridge gave way.
Today Cao Jun and I continued up to the point
the Pearl Necklace. That was probably the most difficult part. While
the ridge is flat it keeps getting steeper and steeper on the sides—at
one point up to almost 90 degrees.
The snow up here is very grainy with ice
crystals. So when you hit with your ice axe you can’t get a good hold, and it’s
a little too hard to get the shaft in all the way. It’s a little,
how would you say, uncertain. About two to three feet under this
grainy snow is great ice. So I’ve come to climbing with a shovel.
And when I want to put in protection I’ll just take the shovel
and start digging like crazy to get to the good ice because it’s
a lot faster than digging with the axe or an ice tool.
We were able to get across most of the Pearl
Necklace, which is covered with huge cornices on it in mushroom-type
almost easier to walk right up on top of the ridge right near the
Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get over to
the main wall. From there there would only be something like a
1,000 vertical feet to the summit.
Right now I’m in the tent here, laying in my sleeping bag
in my harness. Today two of the Chinese climbers came up and we set
up another tent. We’ll all be going across the ridge again
tomorrow. And hopefully, if the conditions are good, we’re
going to try for the summit.
12, 2004 — Getting
ready for the summit bid
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (1.1 MB MP3 file)
Hi. This is Tim Boelter reporting from glacier
camp at 16,200 feet. It’s Friday, November 12th. Yesterday the wind subsided. We
had some hellacious winds for two days. It’s a sign that winter
is hitting the area.
Five of us did make a sortie up the 2,000-foot
Japanese Couloir from camp to cache gear and tents. Jon Otto and
Cao Jun spent the night at the ridge. And today they are hoping
to fix line across the Pearl Necklace. From this point it’s
up the steep face to the summit.
Today three people will be going up and they will be setting a tent
up on the ridge. Hopefully tomorrow they will be making a summit
bid. I will be going up the day after to make my summit bid.
We are at the expiration date of the expedition.
Most people have to get back to business as usual between the 14th
and the 17th. So we’re hopefully going to get the summit
in the next few days.
10, 2004 — Tim
plummets into crevasse
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (4 MB MP3 file)
It’s Wednesday, November 10th about in 1:45 our time here
on Siguniang. Last night it snowed profusely. We got about eight
more inches of snow. Today the winds were gusting probably at 50
miles an hour — just a miserable day. The sun is out, but a
group that was going to go up is not going to go up today.
Yesterday Jon, Cao Jun, and myself continued
to fix lines across the corniced ridge about two thirds of the
way to the place that is called the “Pearl Necklace.” This
section is the steepest part of the ridge because it is a true
knife edge and very steep. From there the summit face juts upward
about 1,300 feet.
We have now made four trips up the Japanese Couloir from our glacier
camp. This is a 2,000-foot section with 50-degree snow and ice. Once
at the top of the ridge, we traverse to the left on a slope that
ranges from 60 and 70 degrees in verticality. And the exposure is
We’ve had some great days for climbing,
but we are in a weather pattern that usually dumps between five
to eight inches of new powder every three days. What this means
is that aside from the continuous avalanches for up to two days
after the snowfall we again have to posthole up to base of the
route, which is the steep icefall, which is about 30 feet to 40
feet high. This can take some people two hours just to get to the
The temperature here vacillates between 60
degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees below zero at night. During the
day when the sun is out it gets quite warm, but even when the clouds
block the sun the temperature will drop 15 degrees or more. Although
the sun rises between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., it does not reach our
camp until 10:30 because of a ridge. Which means getting up early
at seven o’clock in the morning
to go on these sorties up the mountain is very difficult. We try
to get going up the mountain at eight o’clock in the morning
but usually the cold prevents an on-time departure.
Yesterday on the way down I was the first
one coming down the slopes. We have a
route that we take.
As I was coming down the route we all knew there was a crevasse
(which is also known as a bergschrund) apparent on the route. But
up until my descent this crevasse has never faltered us. I
was sitting on my butt glissading down and I was swallowed up by
this crevasse. A huge gaping hole broke open and myself and about
a ton of snow went down into the crevasse. It scared the hell out
of me. I had no idea how far I was going. I had visions of Touching
the Void. I was very fortunate
to land on an ice shelf seven feet below the surface. While I did
plummet into the bergschrund I was able to get myself out no problem.
I was really concerned about Cao Jun and Jon coming down so I stayed
up and we all yelled at Cao Jun to go to the left. He negotiated
it quite nicely and so did Jon. The last thing we want is for them
to come down in the dark and plummet into this crevasse.
Jon has been doing an extraordinary job of fixing
lines up this route. He has fixed 600 meters up the couloir and then
another 200 meters across the ridge. Jon and I have been basically
working together on all the fixing.
What has happened now is we ran out of fixed line
and made a phone call to Beijing. And last night we were delivered
almost 700 yards, 600 meters, of new fixed line that came up in the
middle of the night along with five DVCAM tapes for me to continue
The photography up here has been absolutely
spent a lot of time filming storms, avalanches, being avalanched
on, and plenty of crevasses — of course I didn’t film
today’s. It’s been an extraordinary trip. I have a lot
of filming to do in Chengdu and Beijing before I leave the country
to put this film together. That leaves me with four more days on
the mountain. We’re hopefully going to hit the summit in that
time. If we do not I’m still going back to continue filming
the other aspects of the production. Making the summit is not as
important to me as it is for the Chinese. I have a lot of confidence
in Jon that he will get everybody up there.
8, 2004 — Unexpected
to Jons voice dispatch from the mountain (2.6 MB MP3 file)
We were all dressed and ready to head out
this morning, crampons on, and harnesses on, to go up and find
Camp II on the ridge. We were a little weary because last night
we got a huge dump of snow. And we wondered about the avalanche
danger. As soon as the sunrays hit the top of that ridge the snow
started to come down. And we saw this really big avalanche come
down and we decided, “OK, forget
it, another rest day.” And we ended up having to take everything
But we didn’t waste the day. We ended up actually doing some
crevasse diving. We set up a nice belay and lowered ourselves into
a crevasse and climbed out. Tim had a great time down there filming
because crevasses are so beautiful the way the sunlight refracts
down in the ice. That was our day’s activity.
Our cook left to get new shoes because his
feet were freezing. So later in the afternoon we all went in and
made dinner. I cooked up about 30 strips of bacon and Cao Jun made
dinner. It was the best dinner we’ve had so far up here at
our glacier camp.
Now we’re in our tent. It’s just been getting colder
and colder every night. I don’t know how cold it is out but
I’d say maybe near zero degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t
get light out here until about 7:30 and it gets dark about 7:00.
So we have about 12 hours of sunlight. It’s going to be a very
Hopefully we’ll have a nice night. It won’t snow. And
tomorrow we’ll get up early again and go find Camp II. That’s
all for now.
7, 2004 — More
to Jons voice dispatch from the mountain (3.3 MB MP3 file)
This mountain is turning out to be a lot
more formidable than we thought. We thought as soon as we got up
to the top of the ridge then it would be pretty straightforward — the Japanese couloir
was the hard part. But now it seems like the ridge is going to be
the hard part. And the tricky part is trying to find a place to put
a camp up there. It’s just overhanging cornices it seems the
Tomorrow we’re going to go up and lead
out as far as the ridge, for 200 yards or more and hopefully find
some place we can dig in to put up a camp.
Height-wise we’re going to be actually closer to the summit
than we are now on the ridge. From there it will be less than 200
vertical feet to the summit, which isn’t much but it can still
take awhile. This type of climbing can sometimes take longer
to go down than it can to go up if you’re going alpine style.
But we’re still going to be fixing rope.
And speaking of fixing rope, the rest of
the team went up the ridge today and all got a little bit scared
and came down. There were wild phone calls, and a lot of excitement,
and a lot of phone calls made on their cell phones, and it looks
like we’re going to be flying
in 500 or 600 more meters of fixing line from Beijing tomorrow morning.
It will be met at the airport, and we’re going to have a friend
drive that out here for six hours. Then it’s going to be taken
up by porters to our basecamp and hopefully arrive the day after
tomorrow. Which is pretty good I’d say — two-day direct
delivery to the glacier camp. And with more snow pickets and
webbing. So that’s what’s happening. Whether it will
make it here in time — we may make the summit before the rope
arrives. We’ll see what happens though.
Three nights ago it snowed pretty heavy and
that caused a bunch of build up on the mountain. And it didn’t really come off.
The day before yesterday we went up to fix line again. I was a little
worried about the avalanche. We thought if we headed out early in
the morning then it wouldn’t be that bad. But this mountain
has no mercy. And as Tim said we just got plastered.
It was still pretty early in the morning
and we were going up the first part of the fixed line up the icefall,
which is only 40 feet. And a little fluff came down and I jokingly
said to Tim, “You
just want to catch a huge avalanche taking me out on film.” And
then 30 seconds, a minute later this huge, huge powder avalanche
came down. Good thing I was on the fixed line. It just smothered
me. They start from way up high in the couloir on the ridge and come
down the center of the couloir. But it’s a good thing it’s
soft powdered snow. The force is still pretty good though and it
looks impressive. And I’m glad there wasn’t any rock
in there, or ice chunks. In about the hour we were up there I got
smothered by four big avalanches. And one of them Tim and I were
in together. We were blocked slightly by overhanging rock. That was
the beginning of that morning.
We ended up fixing another two thirds up
the couloir. And then yesterday we finished fixing up to the ridge.
And the sunset was just incredible. It was actually the best day
we’ve ever had here. There were
hardly any clouds. Alpine glow was also incredible. So that’s
what’s going on here right now.
Ooh, the glacier just cracked under us. That’s
Tell Xuehua, my wife, that I miss her a bunch and I got all her
The ridge is at 18,600 feet and it looks
like we might be able to find a camp between there and 18,900 feet.
We hope. So that’s what
we’re going to do tomorrow.
6, 2004 — Avalanches
camp at 16,450 feet
Yesterday Jon and I went up the face of the couloir fixing the lines.
We made it very close to the ridge. But we had 5 to 6 inches of snow
the day before. That created avalanche hazards.
When Jon was on the ice face he was hit with
several avalanches. I was hit as well with several. Fortunately
we were both on the fixed line at the time, so we were able to
hang on, hunker down, and wait them out. The snow is soft, dry,
and powdery, so it’s not the kind of
snow that will kill you in an avalanche. But it certainly is the
kind that will scare you. I got all of it on film and almost had
the camera swept away. But I did get good footage. I know — I
be thinking about filming at a time like that, but that was my instinct.
This morning Jon is on his way back up to
hopefully reach the ridge. Jon’s been doing an excellent job fixing the lines. My feet
are frost nipped from yesterday, so I’m staying back momentarily.
But I hope to follow him within the hour.
4, 2004 — Rest
day on the glacier
to Tims voice dispatch from the mountain (2.3 MB MP3 file)
From glacier camp at 16,450 feet
Hello. This is Tim Boelter reporting from
glacier camp, Camp I, on Siguniang. It’s November 4th, Thursday.
Today we are taking a rest day. Jon Otto, Ma Yihua, and Kang Hua
are staying down today while four other members of the Chinese
contingent go up.
Yesterday we climbed up to 17,700 feet and
fixed lines in the couloir The first two hours of the climb was
through treacherous postholing. I mean we were postholing up to
our knees and at times up to our crotches. We had to cross three
bergschrunds and the only way we knew we were crossing the bergschrunds
is the fact that our feet would keep going and there’d be
nothing but empty space below that. We did make good progress.
there was a beautiful sunrise. However, we’re now in
clouds and the temperature has dropped. At nighttime the temperature
usually goes below 10 degrees below zero. When the sun is not out
the temperature drastically drops. So one minute you’re in
the sun and it’s 60 degrees and you’re sweating. And
the next minute you’re absolutely freezing.
Two nights ago Jon Otto was making a dispatch
and we heard a violent avalanche coming down. We really didn’t know if we were in
the path of it. Both of us jumped up. I got out of my sleeping bag
without even unzipping. We both stormed out into the night with just
our underwear on. We were very fortunate. The avalanche wasn’t
anywhere in our path, but it was very loud and it scared the hell
out of us to be honest with you.
Today is a beautiful day. We’re taking
a rest. I can see four dots right at the base of the icefall (the
Chinese contingent), which has to be negotiated before going up
into the couloir.
Jon Otto did a fantastic job of leading the
icefall. Then we continued up. I lead a section where we fixed
line up to our highpoint and that’s where we’re at now. We’re hoping these guys
will continue up through the couloir and possibly get close to the
ridge. We don’t think they’re going to get to the ridge.
They’re moving quite slowly today.
But it’s absolutely a fantastic place. The views are incredible—probably
the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen in the mountains.
The filming I’m doing here is incredible. We hope to finish
this film by year’s end.
Things are going good here. We’re all healthy. We have quite
the glacier camp here. We have a cook up here now. You really can’t
beat that. It’s like an expedition to the big mountains in
the Himalayas even though we should be doing this alpine style.
WEDNESDAY, November 3,
2004 – Avalanche
We walked from basecamp to our
glacier camp today at 16,450 feet in two hours time. We are camped
near a beautiful crevasse directly under the Japanese Couloir, our
mouths watering in anticipation of the route we’ll start fixing
line on tomorrow. Because our team is fairly large we decided to
fix the entire couloir all the way up to the ridge. China has a history
of expedition-style climbs and that is the approach we are taking
this time, unlike last year when we attempted Siguniang alpine style,
which it is very suited for. Old habits are hard to break.
The sunset tonight was….. Oh, shit….
We just bolted out of our tent in the cold
of the night -- it’s
after 10 p.m. -- because of the terrifying sound of a large avalanche.
But we are now back in the tent continuing this dispatch and
in little worry of our surroundings.
The sunset tonight was a rare treat. I believe
this area offers some of the most beautiful and exciting climbing
in the world. From our camp we can see across the valley to numerous
unnamed and unclimbed peaks between 17,000 and 19,000 feet high.
This whole region is speckled with peaks like that. They offer
routes that are walk-ups, glacier ascents, big walls, long ice
gullies, and more. There’s something
Most of Sichuan Province (or eastern Tibet) is Tibetan, Qiang, and
Yi nationalities. And the local flora and fauna is some of the most
diverse in the world.
WEDNESDAY, November 3,
2004 – The Chinese
The whole gang arrived at basecamp
a couple days ago, old climbing buddies and friends, some that I
haven’t seen for a few years.
It’s a fun reunion.
These are some of China’s most proficient
alpine climbers and mountaineers with many years of experience.
There’s Ma Yihua. He’s from the Arête Alpine Instruction
Center (AAIC) out of Chengdu, China. AAIC is China’s first
guide company dedicated to teaching all aspects of alpine, rock,
and ice climbing.
My good friend Cao Jun is here. He’s
also a new father of a nine-week-old baby boy. We got to know each
other in 1990 through the Peking University mountaineering club.
We climbed a 24,750-foot mountain together in 1991 using canvas
and fur climbing boots and other completely useless gear knowing
nothing about high altitude.
There’s Chen Junchi who gained fame
by his 2002 ascent of Mt. Everest, but prefers remote, shorter,
and steeper mountains.
Kang Hua flew in from Lhasa, Tibet. He works
at the Tibet Mountain Guide School that trains young Tibetans to
work on 8,000-meter peaks as “Sherpas,” porters, and
Our other two Chinese team members are Jia
Guiting “Rock Stud” and
Gang – an overall solid climber.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2004 — Heading
up to 16,200 feet
The full climbing team joined Jon and me
here at basecamp two days ago. So far the weather has been miserably
cold. Yesterday we had clouds and snow all day, so most of the
day was spent packing and preparing for the push up the mountain.
Two days ago Jon and I climbed up to 15,200 feet and built a platform
on the glacier. It was striking how much the glacier has changed
since we were here last year.
This morning Jon and I and two Chinese climbers
are going up to cache gear at 16,200 feet. The satellite phone
will stay at basecamp, so we’ll be out of touch until we
return from the cache.
When I climbed Cho Oyu back in 2000 there was a Chinese climber
on our team named Chen. In an amazing coincidence, when the full
team joined us here on Siguniang two days ago Chen was one of the
climbers. It was a great surprise to see a familiar face.
Well that’s it for now. It’s morning here and we’re
off to carry a cache.
30, 2004 — Setting
up basecamp, porter strike
voice dispatch from the mountain (2.7 MB MP3 file)
From Siguniang basecamp at 14,800 feet
The advanced climbing team consisting of Tim Boelter, Jon Otto,
two guides in training, one cook, and one porter reached basecamp
yesterday evening. Yesterday morning just after dawn we stumbled
through the downstairs of our rustic Tibetan guesthouse for breakfast.
That was at Rilong Town at 10,700 feet, the jump off point for the
hike to basecamp. It was a typical breakfast of a boiled egg, bread,
rice porridge, and pickled cabbage.
After breakfast we pulled all our gear out
to be loaded on the horses. Our gear consisted of 23 duffels (each
55 pounds), four large basecamp tents, two 60-pound propane tanks,
a generator, gasoline, three live sheep, and other miscellaneous
items. All this stuff was loaded onto 16 horses—including
the three sheep, which were all strapped onto one horse, bahing.
The gear was first shuttled into Changping Valley to a field named
Ganhiazi then loaded onto the backs of 28 porters for the long, steep
climb up a narrow valley to basecamp.
The walk up the valley to basecamp starts in tropical vegetation,
passes through an evergreen forest, then high-altitude meadows, and
then finally up onto a moraine where basecamp is located.
About 600 yards from basecamp our porters
went on strike. It was late in the afternoon and they didn’t
want to get back after dark, or at least that was their excuse.
They all dropped their loads and said they didn’t even care
at all if they got paid. They were just going down, and that was
that. Oh well, not really much you can do about that.
Today we spent
the whole morning shuttling loads from where the porters dropped
everything back up to basecamp. And then the entire afternoon
was spent setting up basecamp.
But, I must say, we have a decked out basecamp—very expedition
style. It’s total overkill for a 6,000-meter peak. But can’t
complain. Our basecamp layout consists of one large sleeping tent,
one large cooking/eating tent, and one large tent to store all our
gear in. All tents have indoor electrical lighting. And our cook
made a fantastic lamb and potato stew for dinner.
Tomorrow we go to our glacier camp. “We” consisting
of 6 porters, our two guides in training, Tim and me.
October 28, 2004 — Packing
for the climb
It is 4:10 pm here in Rilong. The valley
looks entirely different then it did in October last year. The
trees are yellow and winter is closing in. I couldn’t film
from up on the ridge like I did last year, the clouds are once
again shrouding the valley and the mountain.
We spent the entire day repacking gear for the
thirty plus porters, the packs had to weigh 50 pounds each. This
is almost like a trip to the Himalayas. The Chinese have packed everything,
including beer and Coca-Cola.
Tomorrow we leave for the mountain, it should
take us about nine hours to reach the basecamp. I just hope the
mountain is in good shape, so far it has been socked in. The rest
of the team will arrive tomorrow and won't be up the hill for another
day after that. The climb officially begins on the 1st of November
and should be over by the 14th.
Wednesday, October 27,
2004 — Arriving in
It is 8:13 am on Wednesday
here in Chengdu. We are packing the equipment and getting ready to
leave for the mountain. It was a total of 18 hours flying and two
days of travel to get here.
Mountain Hardwear, one of our sponsors was very
generous. It was like a shopping day for equipment. I got nice pants,
a jacket, and gaitors.
This is going to be a big expedition—probably
about 30 porters going up the hill to bring in the massive amounts
of equipment. Jon is thinking about doing the climb lightweight
alpine style, but the Chinese want to fix the entire colouir (the
place where all the rock fall came down on us last year).
This section is 400 meters high, about 1,500 feet.
We will set up camp on the glacier like last time, and it will become
the official basecamp. We may set up another camp at the base of
the colouir (maybe not). The next camp will be at the ridge about
5,600 meters or roughly 18,300 feet. From
there we may try to strike the summit. So we won't have but two or
three camps on the mountain. We will have a generator for charging
the sat phone and equipment.
There will be seven of us climbing, and five
basecamp support people. Two of the support people work for Jon,
another is a cook, another is a reporter, and another is just there.
I'll be the only person who doesn’t speak Chinese.